British Columbia ride report…

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Lytton, British Columbia,  writing this update. It’s about 8:00PM and it’s still daylight out. It’ll probably be light out for at least a couple more hours at this latitude. The hotel room is dark though because of a power outage caused by a forest fire raging 30 miles north. They say that the wind is blowing in the other direction, so we are safe here and we probably won’t need to be evacuated. Let’s hope they are right, because I just unplugged the battery from my motorcycle to prevent it from dying again like it did two nights ago in Vancouver. If I wake up in the middle of the night with the town in flames, there probably won’t be very much time to reconnect the battery, load up my assorted luggage and flee. If anything – this morbid thought did strike me – I’d have to abandon yet another motorcycle in Canada.

Going back to the beginning, I rode up to Canada on Wednesday for some work with the US Consulate. I stayed at the Victorian Hotel downtown, which was a delightful little place, bright and cheerful and certainly very Victorian. Outside of the faint-inducing shock of the added taxes (HST? Parking tax?) it was quite a comfortable place to live in and the location was central enough that I could easily walk to several different neighborhoods. By the third night though, I had had quite enough of the Victorian and of Vancouver. I realize now that even though I prefer to live in a big city, there comes a point when the incessant noise, fumes, cigarette smoke, and the overwhelming sensory overload starts taking its toll. Vancouver reminded me a lot of Montreal, where I spent a couple of days last summer when I rode my motorcycle out along the East Coast. I probably wouldn’t mind going back up there for a weekend sometime, but as of this morning, I was ready to leave.

I could have ridden straight back south to Seattle, but it seemed a shame to have ridden the I-5 slog all the way to the border and not explore some of the motorcycling roads up north. So I consulted my Destination Highways – British Columbia book and plotted a rough idea of a route – the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver up north to Whistler and Pemberton, then the Duffy Highway to Lillooet (a name that’s always sounded rather charming), then south to Lytton and Hope, and towards the border, crossing over at Sumas and either I-5 back to Seattle, or the more pleasant Highway 9, depending on how I was doing with time. This is what it looks like in Bing Maps.

Considering that I can generally do about 300 miles on an average day, I figured I could even make it to Bellingham by Saturday night and wondered if I could resist the temptation to just keep going home so I could sleep in my own bed. I needn’t have worried though, because as it turns out, I only rode about 200 miles to Lytton, feeling so tired, dehydrated and sore that I just wanted to go curl up in bed and take a long nap. This then is what the first long-ish ride of the season feels like.

To be fair, the 200 miles that I did do were probably on the twistiest roads I have ridden in the past five years. I’m talking twisties with no end to them, with hardly any stretch of a straightaway to relax for a few minutes. I knew that my riding skills had gotten really rusty after the very first five miles on the Sea to Sky Highway when I realized that I was exerting the death grip of doom on the handlebars. I didn’t really let up for the next 195 miles, hence the crushing soreness in my upper back and shoulders now.

If I could analyze all the contributing factors that led to what was a really uncomfortable, not very fun day of riding today, here’s a list in no particular order – my glasses are all scratched up and they kept getting smudged (I’m out of contacts) making it difficult to focus; wearing glasses also meant that I had zero peripheral vision, which is fine for the short commute to work, but not an all-day, very technical ride; my visor was also scratched up with one big scratch right between my eyeballs from where I dropped my helmet at the border three days ago; my left saddlebag was heavier than the right, causing the bike to handle very peculiarly in certain corners; some sections of the road were extremely bumpy and my bike’s suspension is dialed up to super-stiff so that I could practically feel my brain sloshing around in my head; my GPS stopped charging from the mount (again!) and so I had no music; there was lots of traffic on the road for the first 50 miles and eerrily no traffic in the last 75 or so. The list goes on and I could keep going, except I’m beginning to sound like a right old crybaby now, aren’t I?

The last 40 miles between Lillooet to Lytton were – and I’m still a little surprised to say this – one of the most harrowing rides I have done in a long time. By this time I was exhausted enough that I wasn’t thinking straight anymore, very dehydrated, it was hot and dry, the road had sheer drops on the side that triggered my fear of heights so badly that I was practically riding in the wrong lane, the wind was blowing hard, enough to blow me around a couple of times where I almost thought I was going to drop the bike, there were a few gravel stretches that came out of nowhere, and I hit a rock that that made me wobble violently (I remember thinking that if I had been a n00b, that would have been a sure-fire trigger to panic brake and really go down), and the scenery was mind-numbingly boring. Of course, everything’s boring if you don’t dare to look around you and force yourself to keep looking straight ahead at the road.

A quote from the DH guys on this stretch of road – “At 17.3 km, the road narrows to a twisty one-lane trail across an immense gravel slope that plunges right to the river. The collapsing rubble and pockmarks on the pavement testify to the rockslides that pummel this precarious stretch of road. Afraid of heights? Don’t look to the right. The narrow road, sheer drop off, and collapsed barrier can be disconcerting. One missed corner and you’ll be on the the world’s worst trials course.”

I read this after the fact, of course.

Which brings us to Lytton. It isn’t so much a one horse town as it’s a town that used to be a one horse town except that they killed and ate the horse a long time ago. They had a Visitor Center, the sight of which made me want to giggle hysterically. I stepped in on a lark, and as it turns out, it’s rather fortunate that I did. They sold “tokens” for wifi there, which I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. The entire town uses the same wifi network and there is no cell phone coverage. I was met with blank looks when I asked them what they did in the evenings. “You could go down to the river…” was the best suggestion I heard. I might just do that.

In parting, one thought that struck me during today’s ride was that I seem to have lost the enthusiasm I used to have to find new roads and to document my rides. I thought back to the times when I first started riding alone through Washington state and how I used to stop every 5-10 miles to take pictures, and did a long, illustrated trip report when I got home. As my bikes got bigger and I started riding more miles at a stretch, the desire to stop at all appears to have faded away. I didn’t see anything today that made me want to pull over and just pause and look, much less photograph. Is it because BC is so similar to Washington and there really wasn’t anything new to see? Was it the oppressively hot weather? Was the ride reflective of my general state of mind for the past week – stressed out, unhappy, trying to find an ever-elusive escape? I don’t know what it is, but it worries me a little. In exactly ten days, I board a flight to Slovenia for a one month long motorcycling vacation. If today’s ride is reflective of what that’s going to be like, am I out of my mind to be spending so much time and money on something that has lost its allure for me? I dearly hope not, but I guess there’s no way to find out without going through with it.